Melbourne Fringe: ‘Committee’ at La Mama Theatre

Shakespeare had to submit his plays for approval to perform. He created art for the masses to a formula of a kind. But does art-by-committee kill the form? Can you create a play which ticks all the funding category boxes and still produce art audiences will enjoy?  In today’s funding environment, fully corporatized and monetised, a future where actors themselves are outsourced to virtual technology is coming soon to a stage near you!  Such timely critique of arts creation is forensically examined in Uninvited Theatre’s scathing expose, ‘Committee’.

The set places us in the bowels of a high-rise, amidst the plumbing, with the play’s pithy narrator in the audience. This interrogation of the clash of paperwork criterion with artistic enterprise is deftly artful, and employs the Bard’s own clever use of metaphor to ridicule the obsessions of funding bodies and of the age.

The play uses Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ as its template. Mr Ham, the writer, keeps an appointment with the production assessment team to follow up on his application to have his play produced. In an austerity environment which funding bodies currently find themselves in, he is scrutinised as if applying for a bank loan. His application is assessed more rigorously than the play itself and against equity and disability quotas. If Shakespeare were skewered as Mr Ham is each submission, would any of his great plays have made it to the Globe?

With past successes such as ‘OMG The Musical’, Epiphany Inc. comprises a panel who rattle off key phrases which intimidate the applicant. The hoops the writer, seated on a toilet, is made to jump through mean he soon learns to speak in Orwellian corporatese.  “Diversity benchmarks”, “vision vs. mission statements”, “roadmaps to succession” and “solutions architect” echo through the text. We’ve all been subject to such language in the workplace, and this play shows fully that “all that is wrong with theatre is wrong with the world”.

The strong cast deliver their copious lines with a frenzied verve. The committee members soon begin to resemble ‘Hamlet’s’ own characters. One-liners such as “how will we sell a protagonist who does nothing to our funding partners?…” mock the inaction of the famous lead, and references to suicide and mental illness raise red flags for partner supporters like Beyond Blue. The disease-like madness which wrecks its path through the classic soon unravels the board, notably in Bronwyn and her relationship with her son. A frenzied absurdity is soon evident in every character.

Anyone who loves ‘Hamlet’ and all its themes will get the in-jokes and the subversive undoing of the panel via the creative work itself. This literate farce is important viewing for all practicing creatives, leaving the question hanging: has satisfying application criteria become the art now, and, if so, what has this done to art itself?

– Sarah
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On-the-street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope!

The season of this 80-minute show runs at the main La Mama Theatre, September 14-25, 7:30pm Wed-Saturday, 4pm Sunday. Book Here.
This venue is wheelchair accessible.

For more Melbourne Fringe 2016, check out our guide and all our reviews.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of La Mama Theatre.
Image credit: Melbourne Fringe.